Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Having Fun in Comic Text Scene Study - Interview with Andrew McGinn

Andy, we're excited that you'll be teaching Comic Text Scene Study at Freehold this quarter. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with comic scene study work?

Thanks! My experience with comic scenes is pretty much a love affair that I keep returning to. One of the reasons I love comic texts is that I apply so many of the core techniques you would with any other scene, but I know that the end result will be really fun. I love fun. I love it. It's learning about why the scene is funny, and then using that knowledge to send your performance energy in the right direction.

A fun example: Many moons ago I once got to tour the country playing the great role of Sir Anthony Absolute in Sheridan's The Rivals, a classic comedy about trickery, gossip, and getting the girl. So this guy is a big-hearted, very passionate, very sort of clownishly masculine guy, and the character is in his late 60's, meanwhile I had just graduated and was 23 years old. Everything about him is just plain big. So in I go having all the fun in the world being as huge as I can, and nothing -NOTHING- was funny. Getting a little time to think after those embarrassing moments, you realize that my having fun was the only discernible action on stage. The character of course needs to be doing things to people in order to achieve his goals, just like in every other play. Once I started treating it like any other scene I, as a performer, am working way, way, way less hard and the scenes became a hilarious riot. It's a case of channeling all that fantastic desire to have fun and make people laugh into the scene that was written. I certainly wish I had understood the scenes better when I started, but once I did, I had never had more fun on stage.

What roles have you played that have had a strong comic element and what did you discover in the process of playing them?

Well what's on my mind the most right now is of course Watson, from the recent production at Seattle Rep of Hound of the Baskervilles. The big discovery unique to that role for me, was that elegance can be funny. I’ve done a lot of classical comedy that like Hound of the Baskervilles has a lot of wit, irony, and language humor but the thing about the Watson that David Pichette and Robert R. Hamilton Wright wrote was that he was a patient and elegant man. Sometimes I got uncomfortable with that because I thought I wasn’t being funny enough, but then of course there’s times when Watson would lose his cool and THEN came the big humor. You see, without the grace there was nothing for Watson to fall from, and regain. ... and that’s just another example of how time and time again knowing and trusting the script really is the thing.

Are there any misconceptions actors have in approaching Comic Text work or skills that are particularly useful for an actor approaching a piece of comic text?

Mostly the thing that gets in folks way is that they don't think learning the mechanics of their scripts is part of the fun. But I’m here to tell you: It is!!! It's like listening to your favorite song and you're just waiting for the the chorus to send you off ... yet for us we're listening to the script waiting for the inspiration that's going to send us off! Listening to a script you know is funny moment-to-moment is like a delightful game of anticipation, like peek-a-boo.

What are you looking forward to in teaching the Comic Text Scene Study class this quarter?

Aw man, I'm so amped about this class. So much of acting training can be so heavy, and here we'll have a genre that is inherently not heavy, but meanwhile we'll be using the same skills: Dropping into a fiction, responsiveness, clarity action, the pursuit of objectives .... and in addition we'll look at common elements of comedy that makes them funny like extreme stakes, total failures, status reversals, and irony. It's going to be a fun and fascinating time. I'm amped!

Andy will be teaching Comic Text Scene Study at Freehold beginning April 6. More information can be found here: Comic Text Scene Study

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